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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Drumheller Valley

The Drumheller Valley is located in a unique geographic location of central Alberta described as badlands (likely from the French, terres mauvaises). Known for its geographic beauty, the Tents at construction of railroad, Newcastle flat, Drumheller Valley, Alberta. [1911]Drumheller Valley includes the Red Deer River, its major river system. Shaped by wind and water erosion, the landscape is a marked by winding gullies and outcroppings of rock known as hoodoos.

While today Drumheller is world-renowned for its dinosaur fossils and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, in the early part of the 20th century, it came to prominence for its coal resources. The area began as a ranching community in 1897. The coming of the railroads meant that coal mines had to be located strategically close to the lines. For the Drumheller Valley, the building of the Canadian Northern Railway spurred development in the region. In 1910, Col. Samuel Drumheller bought the townsite just before the Valley’s economy took off. As Howard and Tamara Palmer note in their book Alberta: A New History:

Drumheller was transformed from a ranching backwater to a transportation, commercial, and coal-mining centre. By the 1920s, the Drumheller Valley had a population of 10,000, including approximately 200 miners who worked in twenty-nine different mines producing coal for domestic use. Drumheller itself had a population of 2500 by 1921.

Myrtle Toshach and Bill Murphy, writing in The Hills of Home: Drumheller Valley (Drumheller: Drumheller Valley Historical Association, 1973) note that, between 1912 and 1960, 124 mines were producing in the region. As with the other mining areas of the province (including Edmonton region, the Rockies, Nordegg, the Coal Branch and Lethbridge/Coalhurst) immigrants from Europe, as well as those already in eastern Canada and the US, were attracted by plentiful work. Today, the Drumheller Valley is known for its collection of dinosaur bones. Bones discovered throughout the Drumheller Valley are displayed in museums worldwide, including the world famous Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology located in the Valley.

Victor Avramenko and Eric Houghton talk about life underground, including learning the sounds of danger versus the sounds of comfort, and the challenges miners faced, in this video produced by CFCN Television.

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